When Will Sustainable Investing Be Considered to be in the Mainstream?

When Will Sustainable Investing Be Considered to be in the Mainstream?

G&A's Sustainability Highlights (04.18.2019)
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Monday, April 22, 2019 - 11:00am

“Movements” – what comes to mind when we describe the characteristics of this term are 20th Century examples. The late-20th Century “environmental movement” was a segue from the older 19th and early 20th Century “conservation movement” that was jump started by President Theodore Roosevelt (#26), who in his 8 years in the Oval Office preserved some 100,000 acres of American land every work day (this before the creation of the National Parks System a decade later).

The catalysts for the comparatively rapid uptake of the environmental movement?  American rivers literally burned in the 1960’s and 1970’s (look it up – Cuyahoga River in Ohio was one), and that was one reason the alarm bells were going off.  New York’s Hudson River was becoming an open, moving sewer, with its once-abundant fish dying and with junk moving toward the Atlantic Ocean.  Many East Coast beaches were fouled swamp lands.

One clarion call – loud & clear -- for change came from the pen.  The inspired naturalist / author Rachel Carson wielded her mighty pen in writing the best-seller “Silent Spring”.  That book helped to catalyze the concerns of American citizens.  She quickly attracted great industry criticism for sounding the alarm…but her words mobilized thousands of early activists. And they turned into the millions of the new movement.

She explained the title:  There was a strange stillness.  Where had the little birds gone? The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly.”  (Hint:  the book had the poisonous aspects of the DDT pesticide at its center as the major villain.)

Americans in the 1960s were becoming more and more alarmed not only of dumping of chemical wastes into rivers and streams and drifting off to the distant oceans; but also of tall factory smokestacks belching forth black clouds and coal soot particles; of large cities frequently buried beneath great clouds of yellow smog a mile high on what were cone clear days; of dangerous substances making their way into foods from the yields of land and sea; of yes, birds dropping out of the sky, poisoned; of tops of evergreen and other trees on hilltops and mountains in the Northeast burned clean off by acid rain wafting in from tall utility smokestacks hundreds of miles away in the Midwest…and more.  Scary days. For public health professionals, dangerous days.

We will soon again be celebrating Earth Day; give thanks, we are long way from that first celebration back in spring 1970. (Thank you, US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin for creating that first Earth Day!)

Most of our days now are (as the pilots cheer) CAVU – clear and visibility unlimited.  We can breathe deep and as we exhale thank many activists for persevering and driving dramatic change and creating the modern environmental movement... and on to the sustainability movement.  And now – is it time (or, isn’t time!) for another movement along these lines…the sustainable investing movement going mainstream?  Experts pose the question and provide some perspectives in this week’s Top Story.

In Forbes magazine, they ask:  “Why Hasn’t Sustainable Investing Gone Viral Yet?” Decio Fascimento, a member of Forbes Council (and chief investment officer of the Richmond Global Compass Fund) and the Forbes Finance Council address the question in their essay.

In reading this, we’re reminded that such mainstream powerhouse asset managers as BlackRock, State Street/SSgA, Vanguard Funds, TIAA-CREF, and asset owners New York State Common Fund, New York City pension funds (NYCPERS), CalPERS, CalSTRS and other capital market players have embraced sustainable investing approaches. 

But – as the authors ask:  what will it take for many more capital market players to join the movement?  There’s interesting reading for you in the Top Story – if you have thoughts on this, send them along to share with other readers in the G&A Institute universe. 

This is just the introduction of G&A's Sustainability Highlights newsletter this week. Click here to view full issue.